The History Channel has ordered a two-hour documentary film called ‘Tulsa Burning” about the 1921 Greenwood massacre in Tulsa, one of the worst acts of racist violence in American history.
The documentary will be directed by “Freedom Riders” filmmaker Stanley Nelson along with duPont Award winner Marco Williams, and NBA superstar Russell Westbrook will executive produce the documentary along with Donnell Beverly, president of Russell Westbrook Enterprises.
“Tulsa Burning: The 1921 Race Massacre” (working title) will debut later this summer to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the massacre, in which a mob of white residents, many of them even deputized by city officials, attacked Black residents and burned local businesses and houses to the ground, destroying what was the wealthiest Black neighborhood in the country at the time known as “Black Wall Street.” Initial reports from the time recorded 36 people dead and thousands of Black residents interned in hospitals and large facilities.
“Tulsa Burning” in particular will take an in-depth look at the birth of Black Wall Street up until its catastrophic downfall over the course of two bloody days, examining how those events still have ripple effects today. It will also incorporate archival footage and imagery from the time, as well as weave in present-day stories and interviews from historians from organizations including the Tulsa Historical Society & Museum, the John Hope Franklin Center for Reconciliation, the Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission, and the Historic Vernon AME Church, among others.
The History Channel will also partner with Westbrook’s Why Not? Foundation, Endeavor, RedFlight Innovation and Values Partnerships to create an educational and experiential campaign focused on the history and legacy of Tulsa’s Black Wall street. It will provide historical context while encouraging young people nationwide to pursue avenues of innovation and entrepreneurship. The initiative will communicate the importance of investing in Black communities, with an emphasis on youth – connecting the docuseries to the need for progress and development now.
“The Tulsa Race Massacre was not something I was taught about in school or in any of my history books,” Westbrook said in a statement. “It was only after spending 11 years in Oklahoma that I learned of this deeply troubling and heartbreaking event. This is one of many overlooked stories of African Americans in this country that deserves to be told. These are the stories we must honor and amplify so we can learn from the past and create a better future.”
“The horrific story of the burning of Black Wall Street has long haunted me,” Nelson said in a statement. “While I was able to touch on the Tulsa Race Massacre in a short segment in an earlier film, I knew this story needed a much deeper treatment. I’m grateful to be working on this film with such wonderful partners – Marco Williams with whom I have collaborated with on ‘Tell Them We Are Rising,’ Russell Westbrook, Blackfin and The History Channel. Together we are aiming to restore Tulsa, Oklahoma and the fateful events surrounding the 1921 massacre of its Black residents to their rightful place in American history.”
“The History Channel is committed to educating our audience about the past, its impact on the present and its role in shaping the future,” Eli Lehrer, EVP and head of programming for History said in a statement. “Nearly 100 years later, the emotions from the Tulsa Race Massacre are still embedded in the fabric of our society and this poignant piece of our history is sadly relevant now more than ever, as racially charged events unfold before us during our present history. I am honored to partner with Russell, Stanley and Marco to tell this harrowing story with an authenticity and dignity only they can bring.”
“Tulsa Burning: The 1921 Race Massacre” is produced for The History Channel by Blackfin (an eOne Company) and Firelight Films. Nelson is set to direct along with Marco Williams. Westbrook is executive producer. Geno McDermott is executive producer for Blackfin. Nelson is executive producer for Firelight Films. Eli Lehrer and Jen Wagman are executive producers for History.